One winter night in 1993, my wife’s elder sister, Sita Rai in Sibsoo got the biggest shock of her life. While everybody was busy with works late into the night, a group of men suddenly circled them and started attacking them with sticks and machetes indiscriminately. All their faces were covered in black soot. They threatened the family that they would kill them if they do not surrender their money and jewelry. Her father-in-law was subsequently dragged away into the fields, to the spot where he had hidden the money underground and was left with severe cuts and bruises after robbing him of his life-long savings. Later, the family learned that the robbers were from the same village but since they had distorted their faces with soot, they could not be identified. Likewise, many robbers disguise themselves when they rob people. Even if they do not hide their identity, they at least wait for the night to fall before they decide to act so that their identity can be hidden by nature. This is the negative energy you would get when you hide yourself behind the masks.
The social media today is full of people who appear extraordinarily bold and courageous. They seem to have all the guts to raise their voices against anybody on this planet, but honestly speaking, it is the online anonymity that has given them such a confidence and courage. Most of the people who are making dangerous comments on Facebook groups such as The Bhutanese Forums today are those with fake accounts. I don’t think they would be able to make the same noises if they are made to come out from behind their fake profiles and face the reality. This is the real danger of anonymity. When you are anonymous, you think you are far from even the nearest person and you just feel you are screaming into the wind. The online anonymity gives you the feeling that you are beyond the reach of law enforcement and authorities, and this gives you the guts to go on either harassing or criticizing people or agencies as per your wish. Since the internet makes you feel distant from your victims, you won’t hesitate to harass them online. Moreover, since the victims do not have the tools and resources to investigate and find out who you are, you feel even safer when you are anonymous. I heard that even Zongsar Jamyang Khentse Rinpoche’s latest film “Hema Hema: Sing Me A song While I Wait” conveys this message through the behaviors of its masked characters. The film reviews show that it demonstrates how anonymity breeds negative behaviors that often spiral out of control.
However if we look at it positively, the online anonymity the internet gives its users should be a blessing for those who are marginalized and disadvantaged because it gives them the platform to raise their voices without any fear of persecution or repercussion. . It facilitates the freedom of expression among the general population and gives rooms for people to speak their hearts. It also gives the internet users, especially the children to limit the amount of personal information they share online so that they can ensure their personal safety online. Being anonymous can shield oneself from human predators across the cyberspace.
However today, this online anonymity which is supposed to give voice to the voiceless is further silencing them instead. People are launching personal attacks on social media using fake accounts and fake profiles to hide their identity and this is what worries me. People without identity can have the potential to go to any extent to destroy the uninterrupted peace and harmony we have been enjoying for ages in the society. A person without identity is just like an object. He or she will have no emotional sensitivity and feelings for others. When he or she interacts with people online, it’s only his or her account name that interacts with them. Since such people do not have their real identity, they don’t care what they say online. As a result, they can often cause unnecessary chaos and disharmony in the society. So if everybody sticks to his or her own identity, I am sure people won’t be as aggressive and problematic as they are today especially on social media. If online attackers are not allowed to use fake profiles or if robbers and thieves are not allowed to hide their identity during the act as they often do, this world would certainly be a safer and more peaceful place to live in. Let us all accept who we are and maintain our own identity all the time. It automatically disciplines us and dictates how we should behave, be it during physical or virtual interaction. For children, this does not mean that you should reveal all your personal details on social media. Limit the amount of personal information you share online but do not create fake profiles. How you interact with virtual friends should reflect how you interact with your friends in the real world. You cannot have double standards. Always remember that the loss of identity can create a vacuum that can empower the evil inside us. So always be what you are and stay safe.